The 2016 review…what about 2017?


So 2016 is over…many things happened, but how was my motorbike season? Well, it was a special one, maybe unique. Again, there was no big, adventurous trip. But there were many smaller trips and lots of rallies.

In early 2016, I announced the biggest motorbike project I ever have planned. I had convinced Gerhard, the IBA Germany’s president, to organise the Alpenbutt Rally in 2017 with me as the responsible rally master. It is supposed to be nothing less than the toughest long-distance motorbike rally ever organised in Europe.

Rally scouting lets you discover new places.

Rally scouting lets you discover new places.

Six days of almost constant riding is already a big challenge, but riding the six days entirely in the Alps opens a new dimension. I had planned to visit more than 400 possible locations in the Alps to check if they were suitable to be bonus point locations. In the end, it skipped about 80 places, but still more than 350 were left to be form part of the fiendish rally book that will be handed out to the participants. I had already done a lot of scouting trips in 2015, but 2016 saw again a lot of trips – finally I could visit Slovenia, covered most of Switzerland and did the Western Alps as well. I had seen a lot of the Alps in my life, but visiting many of these places was new to me and I made some great new discoveries.

Interesting places wait for the participants of the Alpenbutt Rally!

Interesting places wait for the participants of the Alpenbutt Rally!

All the hotels at the start, checkpoint and finish were booked when I finally announced the rally together with the publishing of the Alpenbutt website. Together with Florian, the IBA Germany’s web designer, we managed to establish a professionally looking page that should reflect the high expectations of this event. The response so far was overwhelming. I had arrangements for 50 participants, but in October I arranged to increase the capacities to 75 starters. By the end of the year, 60 participants have registered already and I think there are more to come.

There was only one purely „touristic trip“ this year: the trip with John on our old bikes (86’ XBR500 and 69’ Triumph Trident) to Russia. Actually, we lost one day due to a supposedly dead alternator of the XBR, so we had to skip the plan to go to Moscow.

In Riga with John Young.

In Riga with John Young.

At least we wanted to make use of our visa and see Kaliningrad and ride over the Curonian Spit. So we did and visited also Latvia and Lithuania and got really washed in a massive thunderstorm on the way back in Poland. It was a nice, very relaxing trip that proved that we can form a good team on a longer trip as well.

And then there were the rallies. In the end I participated in all European IBA rallies but one. I skipped only the Brit Butt Light Rally in 2016 because the burden with the scouting trips and the rallies was getting too high at a certain point. But nevertheless, I participated in five of them. In 2015, I had the crazy idea if it would be possible to win all the (big) rallies in Europe in one year. This seemed presumptuous – nobody had ever done this, it just seemed too difficult.

In May, I went to the Brit Butt Rally as defending champion – in 2015 I had won the BBR as the first non-British with a spectacular ride.

London. Sunday mornings are the best time to visit.

London. Sunday mornings are the best time to visit.

So this year everybody wanted to beat me. Although I didn’t find my way into the rally, I secured the first place narrowly with a high-risk last 30 minute finish. Title defended. Sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side.

The next rally was the Scandinavian Rally. I had some mixed feelings – my last participation in the annus horribilis 2014 brought me my last non-podium finish, but also changed things from then on.

Second attempt after returning again yo Växjö. This time with me in the picture.

Second attempt after returning again to Växjö. This time with me in the picture.

It started and ended in Södertälje and led me through beautiful Southern Sweden. I had my first encounter with a moose at night – luckily I was going very slow so I could admire this massive animal without getting in danger. In the end it was again a very close shave for the first place – turning around to get back to a bonus point location to take a second photo WITH ME in the picture secured another narrow first place.

Then I skipped the Brit Butt Light, but already one week later I did the Magic 12 Rally leaving from home, starting in Brussels and finishing in Krefeld. The rally book was sent one week in advance so everybody had a lot of time to find his own personal route.

Magic 12 Rally.Düsseldorf.  I hadn't realised for 20 min that I had parked the bike right next to the photo location.

Magic 12 Rally.Düsseldorf. I hadn’t realised for 20 min that I had parked the bike right next to the photo location.

Mine started in Brussels early in the morning and led me through the Ardennes, Luxemburg, the Eifel, Düsseldorf and the lower Rhineland. At the rally finish, Gerhard had organised a big BBQ where we awaited the results. My mate John did his best to win his first rally in Germany, but my route gave me more points, so…another first place.

But the most important rally was still to come…unfinished business…in 2014, I dropped out of the five-day European Tour Rally in a virtual top position, so I was eager to do well in the six-day European Tour 2016. It started again in Stuttgart and had Brno in the Czech Republic as the checkpoint. I chose my route via Innsbruck, the Dolomites, Slovenia and Budapest, where I stayed in a hotel for a short night rest. The next day I crossed Slovakia, entered Poland for a short while and arrived at the checkpoint in time.

Ski Jump, Slovakia. Lovely weather.

Ski Jump, Slovakia. Lovely weather.

I knew that the crucial part was the second leg…I had intended to go around the Iberian peninsula, but the numbers in the rally book told me that the place to go was Ireland. So I set off the next morning, crossed the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and took the tunnel train to Folkestone. Not without a nerve-wrecking two-hour dramatic delay at the terminal in Calais. I crossed England as quickly as I could and took the night boat in Fishguard to Ireland. The next morning I started my adventurous day in Rosslare, went to Dublin at rush hour, passed Cork and Tralee, went to Limerick and Galway, Roscommon and Sligo.

How to disappoint somebody? Old Irish man: "Aaaah, he was a grrreat Hurley player, do you agree?" Me:"Er, don't know. Never heard of him!"

How to disappoint somebody?
Old Irish man: „Aaaah, he was a grrreat Hurley player, do you agree?“
Me:“Er, don’t know. Never heard of him!“

Basically, I toured most of the island in one day and bagged almost all big points there. After a tough day, I decided to have a relaxed stay in Sligo as there was no need for a rush: I couldn’t get the early ferry to Scotland in Belfast anyway. I bagged some points in Northern Ireland in the morning and arrived in Cairnryan around noon. After a few stops around Newcastle and Middle England I boarded on the tunnel train and enjoyed the luxury staying in my own bed that night. The last morning I bagged some more points in Belgium, Luxemburg, Alsace and Germany before I headed aback to the rally hotel. All seemed lost again when the bike stopped some 20 miles before the finish, but luckily it was only some under-pressure in the fuel system. The toughest contenders John and Giel shared my fate of 2014: they dropped out of the rally in Denmark and France, respectively. But as I was the only one to choose the winning route to Ireland, no-one could beat me this time: with a tremendous 30 % lead in points I won the European Tour 2016.

Finally arrived after 7900 km through 14 countries in six days.

Finally arrived after 7900 km through 14 countries in six days.

As a last treat in 2016, I joined the short Iceni Rally in East Anglia in September. Instead taking the XBR500 this time, I rode the big Pan European, but as a handicap, I chose to take my mate Johannes as a pillion with me. With an estimated total curb weight of about 550 kg, this should be enough handicap for the small roads in East Anglia. When we the saw John’s rally bike, the Triumph Explorer, and not his clunker Trident at the start, we knew that he took it serious this time, no handicap from his side.

Johannes the quick pillion!

Johannes the quick pillion!

All right, best case scenario would be a podium finish. During the 8 hours of the rally I missed my little XBR when I had to manoeuvre this big battle ship called Honda Pan European over some single track farm roads. In the end, I changed my plan with a smart little move that was quite risky, but gave us 175 more points… enough to win the rally with a 80 points lead over John. Incredible, the first two-up victory in the history of the European IBA rallies!

I really felt sorry for John and the other riders at the end of this year…All these five rallies were won by the same guy! I know that this gets a little boring for the other contenders. During the European Tour I was already wondering if I should take a break from rallying, should I win the rally. The last two and a half years were an incredible achievement – bagging records one by one. Since June 2014, I have won all rallies but two (DNF in the European Tour 2014 with a crushed BMW gearbox; second place in the Brit Butt Light 2015). Winning the Brit Butt as first non-Brit and defending it; winning two rallies on a non-farkled Honda XBR500; winning the first rally with a pillion; having won all four 24 h German Butt/European Road Runner Rallies since 2005; and last but not least: having won all (regular) European IBA rallies at least once (German Butt, Brit Butt, European Tour, European Road Runner, Scandinavian Rally, Brit Butt Light, Magic12, Iceni Rally). There is only one record left that will not be broken: Rob Roalfe’s six consecutive wins of the Brit Butt Rally 2008 – 2013. So what is there still left to do? Shouldn’t this be the best moment to retire and let others have some part of the cake as well?

Yes, it would be the best moment. However, I like this sport too much to renounce it completely. But a break would be a good idea.

And here comes the outlook for 2017. As I see it now, there is little chance that I will participate in a European rally. The biggest thing will be the Alpenbutt Rally anyway where the best riders will fight for the crown of the best rally rider in the Alps. But as the rally master, I can’t participate. Oh, I forgot to mention that I never was beaten when a rally covered the Alps. So this will be a nice hand-over. I have put all my 30 years riding experience in the Alps in this rally, all I can recommend and show to others, this is my legacy to the rallying and motorbiking community. This is as good as it gets.

And then there will be the other big project in 2017: after the drop-out in 2013 and the cancellation in 2015, I want to participate again in the mother of all long distance motorcycle rallies, the Iron Butt Rally in the USA. I feel it is probably the best time to try it again, I have gained a lot of experience and I’m at the top of my rallying performance. The European Tour 2016 was a good test. Unlike 2013, I’m not overwhelmed by this enormous task anymore. There’s still a lot of respect, after all it is a hell of a rally, but I sense it is not as frightening anymore as in 2013 when I was struggling to become a finisher on a small Honda XBR500. At the time being, my bike is refurbished by Mart!n which should give me peace of mind that a technical breakdown will be as unlikely as possible.

There is a small possibility that I might use the Brit Butt 2017 as a shakedown rally before the big Ironbutt to test the bike with all its old and new farkles and upgrades…. But I think I will decide this late in spring.

So there will be a big change in 2017. The last years were marked by intense rallying, maybe it’s time for something else? We will see…

The Iceni Rally 2016 – the first rally two-up was a success!


Back at home. Yesterday, I did the eight our Iceni Rally in East Anglia with Johannes as my pillion. We had quite a good plan worked out and started at 9 a.m. from Cambridge. The morning was basically a long ride on farm roads until we reached Norwich in the early afternoon. Here we were enough ahead of the plan to add another big point at the coast. Last year, on the XBR500, this seemed so much easier, but riding with a ~630 kg bike on some back roads is a physical challenge.

Team Pan, East Anglia North Coast.

Team Pan, East Anglia North Coast.

I was often not very well focused and missed quite some turns. As a consequence, I could not add two smaller extra locations close to the finish, the was only time for one. And then I had a cunning idea: instead visiting the closer and more obvious one for 150 points, I decided to skip it and get to the other location worth 285 points. Only a small difference, but from my personal experience I knew that rallies are decided in the very end and a few points can make all the difference. The problem was that this route would result in getting four minutes late and thereby getting 200 penalty points. So, if I could catch up two minutes, I would still have a benefit. 30 minutes to go, give it a try! It worked, Johannes was a quick pillion at the bonus point as before and in the end we even arrived before the normal finish time. I counted 12.623 points, that sounded quite a lot; I had been optimizing the route during the last days. In the end there was no extra trophy for the best team (I was hoping for that one), only for the best newcomer. Third place went to Steve Eversfield, and then there were only John Young and us left. The difference between first and second place was a mere 99 points!!! Finally, the risky stunt with the last bonus point location had paid off and we came first! John was very disappointed coming second like this, but he shouldn’t be, because he rode a great rally and missed the first place by only 0.8 %! That’s basically a draw.

After the ceremony, we headed with both bikes to the Tunnel and arrived at 2 a.m. at my place. And interesting experience riding with pillion in a rally, but riding in East Anglia is better done on the small XBR! 🙂

Winning route Iceni Rally 2016

Winning route Iceni Rally 2016

Let’s increase the handicap – the Iceni Rally 2016


After a very successful rallying year, it is time to have some fun. Last year, I had won the new Iceni Rally in East Anglia on my little Honda XBR 500, despite a „veteran“ handicap. The rally is the shortest LD rally with only eight hours but is supposed to hook new people to LD rallying. It is a nice day out with the opportunity to practice new things, especially at bonus point locations, because there are many compared to the total rally time.

This year I want to try something special. I have never ridden in a team or with a pillion before – why not trying this? So my mate Johannes will join me as a pillion and we will ride the rally together on the Honda Pan European. I removed the auxiliary tank and installed the original seat again. The idea to ride with the XBR would have been more work and I was simply too lazy. But that is still another option for the future. We rode only two-up once: when after the legendary XBR Alpentour 2003 his XR600 broke down in Liguria, we went back on my XBR with double luggage, crossing the Alps, having big fun chasing much bigger bikes.

The rally book was provided in advance and I have to say that finding the optimum route was a tough nut to crack – a good chance to test your planning approaches and tools. Rally master Mark Fowler has put together an interesting rally for newcomers and veterans.

The bonus point locations of the Iceni Rally 2016

The bonus point locations of the Iceni Rally 2016

If you want to follow our track in real-time from Saturday morning onwards:

https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=1263c57e4ddf4f0503

 

First place in the European Tour 2016 rally


That’s it. I knew it could be a very good result when I realized that nobody had went to Ireland as well. Apart from the problems at the Eurotunnel and the „breakdown“ just before the finish, the ride went very smooth. I think it was an excellent training for the „big dance“ next year, the mother of all LD rallies, the Ironbutt Rally in the US. I think I found the right balance between riding and resting, I never was really tired and always felt I was under control (after from the panicking moments mentioned above).

So the ceremony came….

3rd place Dave Winter

2nd place Daniel Duvskog

1st place Robert Koeber

The podium finishers of the ET2016.

The podium finishers of the ET2016.

A very nice result and congratulations to Daniel and Dave!

Arrived well at the finish of the European Tour 2016


I am back in the hotel room and I am waiting for my scoring. I arrived well at the finish in time. That is the most important thing, a clear improvement over the ET2014.

These were some intense 6 days. I’ve ridden 7860 km (4885 miles) in 5.5 days and have seen 14 countries. The name „European Tour“ is well deserved. I have taken two ferry boats and two Eurotunnel trains. I have visited 66 of the 400 bonus point locations. I was soaked and I was sweating. I pushed my bike uphill on an Autobahn. I had moments of frustration, panic, and content but above all I was in a very good mood most of the time.

My plans worked very well and I could get the points I wanted to visit. In the end I chose a route from Stuttgart to Brno via the Alps, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I was caught in a heavy thunderstorm and could not dry my gear for 1 day, riding damp to the checkpoint. From there, I chose the route to Ireland as it seemed to provide much more points and offered rest breaks on the ferries. I had not been to Western Ireland on a bike in 28 years.

But before I was trapped at the Eurotunnel where I lost more than two hours due to broken trains. Luckily I could still catch the ferry boat from Fishguard to Rosslare in the night. On Wednesday, I visited many points all over Ireland and did the rest on Thursday morning before I crossed from Northern Ireland to Scotland. I visited the Eastern coast around Newcastle and headed south via Leeds. I adapted my plan, crossed the Eurotunnel at midnight and spent the next rest break in my own bed. On the last day, I picked smaller points in Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany before I headed for the finish. It was 40 km to go to the finish when the bike that went so well during the tour stopped on the Autobahn and wouldn’t start again. I knew it was a petrol problem, but I tried to push the bike uphill to the nearby exit. When I needed a break, I tried to start again, it would fire and I would go very slowly to the finish. What a drama! I discovered that it is an under pressure problem in the fuel system, maybe a blocked tank vent, but nothing serious. But it was enough to start panicking, because I had done so well and now I would drop out???

Luckily I didn’t and this time I am a finisher! Unfortunately, my mates and strongest rivals John Young and Giel Kerkhof dropped out of the rally like I did in 2014. John had a broken final drive bearing and Giel bent his front wheel rolling over a kerb. I can only understand their frustration too well as this happened to me in the 2014 rally. The did excellent routes and it is a pity to miss them at the ceremony.

In one hour, I will be scored and I hope I will keep all of the many many points I have gathered, they seem to be a lot….

At 7 p.m., there will be the banquet and the trophy ceremony….

My GPS track from the European Tour 2016. Obviously the spotwalla server was down when I crossed Great Britain, because the same happen with both devices.

My GPS track from the European Tour 2016. Obviously the spotwalla server was down when I crossed Great Britain, because the same happened with both devices.

 

Leaving for the biggest rally this year: the European Tour 2016


Today I will start my detour to go to the starting place of the European Tour 2016, the only real multi-day rally in Europe, this time organized by IBA UK. 4619330693_879x974ET2014_1I do have unfinished business here: two years ago, at the European Tour 2014, I was in first place after the first leg and had an excellent second leg, when at the end of the fourth day, the gearbox of my BMW decided to initiate an irreversible, quick process of disintegration in the orange fields near Castelló de la Plana:

Breakdown place during the ET2014:$£%!"&?£!!!!

Breakdown place during the ET2014:$£%!“&?£!!!!

In the very second when I put the broken BMW on the main stand I had only one thought:

„That’s it! I’ve had enough!“

I never would ride a BMW again in rallies. The second time I dropped out during a rally in a virtual top position, the third time I needed a towing truck, countless problems with this bike. Finito. Aus, Epfe, Amen.

The statistics are very clear whether this decision was a good one: since that point, I rode 6 rallies with the new (old) Honda Pan European, came second once and won all other five rallies. Ah, and no technical problems whatsoever. No more questions, your honour.

I managed to be back at the rally finish in time, but not without a clear statement:So this time we meet again at the same place near Stuttgart. Rally check-in on Saturday, Start on Sunday morning. After 6 six riding days, we’ll arrive again in Stuttgart on Friday evening. Anything is possible, Ireland to Greece, Estonia to Portugal. More news on Saturday!

If you want to follow my GPS track from Sunday on, here is the SPOT link. I have set up an alternative track based on my phone which I run for experimental reasons. In both cases you’ll need a password that I’ll provide you if you drop me a short e-mail.

 

 

From the Curonian Spit to Riga


In the morning, we did a little walk to the nearby old cathedral of Königsberg (Kaliningrad), a brick-style church from the early 14th century. It was still closed. At one corner of the cathedral, the tomb of one of the greatest thinkers of all times is located: Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant's tomb.

Standing on the shoulders of giants: Immanuel Kant’s tomb.

We returned to the hotel and met a guy from Chemnitz, East Germany who goes around the entire Baltic Sea with his little Simson moped. Chapeau!

Even slower: a Simson in Kaliningrad.

Even slower: a Simson in Kaliningrad.

We started our riding day and with a mixture of good orientation skills and my smartphone we navigated to one of the most bizarre landmarks in Europe: the Curonian Spit. It s a 98 km long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. Its southern portion lies within Kaliningrad OblastRussia and its northern within southwestern Lithuania. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by the two countries. Entering the spit, we had to pay a toll and could then ride through the pine forest until we reached the border with Lithuania. The crossing was relatively quick (one hour) and the contrast with the Russian territory was remarkable. John described it as „from black and white to colourful“.

The High Dune in Nida.

The High Dune in Nida.

At the border we saw a German couple with a strange BMW sidecar. We stopped in the next town (Nida) and had a little lunch. The great dune was close, but we didn’t want to lose the time climbing on it so we took a picture from the distance instead.

Nida is a nice, touristic town with lots of traditional fisher houses, partly painted in blue.

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I tried to find the former house of Thomas Mann but gave up quickly; we had a big plan for this day, we wanted to get to Riga. We continued on the spit and reached the ferry that carried us in no time to Klaipeda on the mainland. The weather was sunny now, but a very chilly, strong wind blew from the West. The A-roads were in a good condition and we made good progress. We reached the Latvian border and the XBR claimed its 45th country visit. In Liepaja, we filled up petrol and booked a hotel in Riga for the night. The remaining 220 km were quick – the road was good and the wind pushed from the back.

Latvian countryside: forests and fields.

Latvian countryside: forests and fields.

Finally we reached Riga and found our hotel in the old town. We checked in and went for a long walk through the beautiful historic centre. Partly it’s a bit over the top in touristic terms, but the historic heritage is for real. We had a Latvian degustation menu in a restaurant and discussed our plans for the next days. Tomorrow we plan to head for Vilnius, Lithuania.

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